The pandemic as a watershed. The world of work is promising never to be the same after braving COVID-19. The proof lies in the numbers of the phenomenon known in the United States as ‘The Great Resignation’: The latest figures from the US Department of Labour reveal that 4.3 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in August. A historical record.
A similar phenomenon also occurred in Italy where the Italian Ministry of Labour reports that 484,000 workers resigned voluntarily in the second quarter of 2021. This number rose by 37% compared to the previous three months and even 85% in relation to the same period in 2020. These are still the initial findings, however, and to speak of a lasting phenomenon, we will need more information.
“It would seem as though COVID has in some way altered the way Italians approach work, perhaps by reinforcing already existing trends or implementing shifts towards professions in the healthcare, personal care or digital technology areas. However, it would be interesting to see how long this phenomenon will last, for which specific public policies would then be needed,” said Francesco Armillei, economist and research assistant at the London School of Economics, one of the first in Italy to study the resignation phenomenon.
We are again looking at an evolutionary process, similar to what happened with smart working in 2020.
Michela Vignoli, occupational psychologist and researcher at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Trento
“I think the current phase of the world of work is easy to decipher: we are again looking at an evolutionary process, similar to what happened with smart working in 2020″. A keen observation by Michela Vignoli, occupational psychologist and researcher at the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of Trento. “As companies are increasingly calling workers back to the office, this often has a mixed effect on those who can’t wait to get back to work and those who prefer to stay at home”.
For many workers, the pandemic has also opened up a different side of life, one that is no longer focused on work and often uncomfortable and alienating office hours, and has allowed them to take care of other often neglected aspects, such as family, friends or hobbies. We have therefore moved from a phase of work-life balance research to a real life-work revolution, as described in Forbes.
A time when we experienced more flexibility, perhaps sometimes putting work on the back burner and prioritising other aspects of life. This is something that can affect everyone and concerns both men and women workers, who have been hardest hit by this pandemic season. The Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, INPS, INAIL and ANPAL have jointly published a document entitled ‘Labour Market 2020’. It states that the percentage of women who lost their jobs last year was double that of men, resulting in a fall in the female employment rate to 1.3% compared to 0.7% for men. “The phenomenon can certainly be of interest to them, as many were forced to make drastic choices during the pandemic and so there may be a desire to rethink this model. But it is still too recent to jump to any conclusions, as the numbers barely date back to last spring”, Vignoli points out.
In a context where one can expect a not entirely present workforce, it is also important to train supervisors, imparting them with skills to understand the current situation.
The opinion of employers
While many workers are imagining a different life, no longer focused solely on their profession, this is not the case for managers who, once the emergency is over, would like to see their employees back in the office.
However, their main concern, namely declining productivity, has failed to emerge in this pandemic period. This is illustrated by data from the World Economic Forum, which has calculated that smart working in the United States has led to a 4.6% increase in productivity.
Meanwhile, the Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) report shows that Italy’s productivity per hour worked has grown by 2.7% in 2021. Particularly striking is the figure for the tertiary sector where, compared to an overall decline in hours worked of 11.8%, there was an increase in hourly labour productivity of 4.2% which is almost anomalous when compared to trends in the sector.
So why should we change course? “The future remains uncertain, but in a context where one can expect a not entirely present workforce, it is also important to train supervisors, imparting them with skills to understand the current situation”, Vignoli points out. “Tomorrow’s world of work is all about creating a real company culture that makes life easier for everyone and gives everyone the chance to do their best, no matter where they are”. Not an obvious step: “The situation can only improve if both aspects are running in parallel, getting staff the training they need and fostering a corporate culture that facilitates this change. This is a way to imagine a much better working environment”.